News stories highlight need for abortion law reform in Sierra Leone

Tuesday, April 26, 2016

Ipas in the News

Shame, stigma and restrictive laws often force young women like Memunatu Kamara in Al Jazeera’s article, “The women dying for an abortion in Sierra Leone,” to turn to traditional practitioners to help end unwanted pregnancies.

She survived because she was rushed to the hospital after she was found crawling on the floor, bleeding and in pain. But others are not so lucky.

“Unsafe abortion is a major issue in Sierra Leone,” says Janie Benson, Ipas vice president of research and evaluation, in the article. Benson adds that many women are unable to seek health care and “die in their communities or suffer short of long-term morbidity.”

Many women in West Africa also have limited access to contraceptives in a region with high pregnancy, unsafe abortion and maternal mortality rates, and where abortion is largely illegal.

In a Thomson Reuters article, “Strict laws drive West African women to dangerous, illegal abortions,” reporter Kieran Guilbert writes about the challenges women in urban and rural areas face in Sierra Leone, where the president has twice refused to sign an abortion bill.

The bill, which has gone back to Parliament for revisions, would have allowed pregnancies to be terminated up to 12 weeks without any restrictions and up to 24 weeks in cases of rape, incest, fetal impairment and when the woman’s health is at risk.

“Strict laws enable governments to ignore the issue of abortion by playing on fears of doing something illegal," says Charlotte Hord Smith, Ipas’s policy director, adding that although the bill has stalled it has “opened it up to public and political debate like never before.”